Episcopal City Mission in the Diocese of Massachusetts on Jan. 11 gathered a roomful of community organizers representing some of the state's most ethnically diverse and economically hardest-hit cities --Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Fall River, Brockton -- and gave out 17 checks totaling $200,000 to fuel their efforts against social injustices this year.
"Because of this support we are able to accomplish so much," Delia Vega of grant-recipient EPOCA said as the event got underway. EPOCA -- Ex-Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement -- is a Worcester-based group that Episcopal City Mission (ECM) has supported through its Burgess Urban Fund for several years.
"Our mission is to create equal opportunities for people with criminal records, people who have paid their debt to society," Vega said.
"The people we work with and for are people who don't have a voice," added her EPOCA colleague, Joseph Yandle. "What this grant means to us? We wouldn't be able to do the work we do without it," he said.
They were joined by advocates for low-income tenants and vulnerable senior citizens in Boston, Latin American workers from New Bedford fighting unfair labor practices and Essex County faith leaders organized around poverty and other community issues on the North Shore, among others.
The 17 recipients were chosen from among 40 organizations vying for this year's grants.
ECM's Burgess Urban Fund supports community organizing primarily in the areas of affordable housing, workers' rights and employment access.
"The Burgess Urban Fund recognizes that community organizing is an important process that develops power and capacity in solidarity with those in need," ECM's executive director, Ruy Costa, told the gathering.
Janine Carreiro of Brockton Interfaith Community (BIC), another of the grant recipients, credited ECM for bringing together like-purposed organizations.
"The funding is very helpful, obviously, but this also gives us the opportunity to be in the same room with others who are key players. It's a chance to engage with new people who can become allies in the future," she said.
BIC is working on a number of fronts this year, she said, including housing foreclosures, teaching staff diversification in the public schools and trying to implement a gang-violence ceasefire in Brockton.
"The needs are many and the work is worthy, though not often accomplished in the short term," explained the Rev. Edward W. Rodman, who chairs the Burgess Urban Fund Committee. He helped establish the fund in 1976 in honor of the late Rt. Rev. John M. Burgess, the 12th bishop of Massachusetts and the Episcopal Church's first African-American diocesan bishop. Over its 30-plus years, the fund has granted more than $6 million to hundreds of organizations.
"The challenge, especially in economic times such as these, is to find the balance between continuing to support organizations that are in it for the long haul and identifying new groups focusing on new needs that deserve support," Rodman said.
Organizations receiving Burgess Urban Fund grants were:
- Boston Tenant Coalition
- Boston Workers Alliance
- Bread and Roses Housing, Lawrence
- Brockton Interfaith Community
- Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores, New Bedford
- Coalition Against Poverty, New Bedford
- Essex County Community Association
- Ex-Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, Worcester
- Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants, Jamaica Plain
- Massachusetts Senior Action Council, Boston
- Merrimack Valley Project, Lawrence
- Metropolitan Interfaith Congregations Action for Hope, Framingham
- Student Immigrant Movement, Boston
- Union of Minority Neighborhoods, Jamaica Plain
- United Interfaith Action, Fall River
- The Worker Center for Economic Justice, Lynn